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O Pioneers! (1913)

by Willa Cather

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Prairie Trilogy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,2991411,490 (3.87)468
Cather presents the story of the Nebraska prairie. Alexandra Bergson, daughter of Swedish immigrant farmers, is devoted to the land and suffers the hardships of prairie life.
  1. 31
    The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas (clif_hiker)
    clif_hiker: pioneer women facing hardship making a home and a life on the prairie...
  2. 00
    Benediction by Kent Haruf (cometahalley)
  3. 00
    Plainsong by Kent Haruf (cometahalley)
  4. 00
    My Ántonia by Willa Cather (cometahalley)

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English (138)  Spanish (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (141)
Showing 1-5 of 138 (next | show all)
Very interesting portrait of life on the frontier. Growing up first in Virginia and then in Nebraska, where this 1913 novel is set, Willa Cather (1873-1947) vividly writes of early settlers, their lives, loves, triumphs and losses. Strong female characters like Alexandra Bergson contrast with weak, possessive ones such as Frank Shabata and Lou and Oscar Bergson, Alexandra's brothers. The novel is a fairly quick read but draws you slowly into the story at first, yet rewards the reader with a rich tapestry of human emotion. ( )
  Jimbookbuff1963 | Jun 5, 2021 |
Entrancing in the way it evokes a time and place, the untamed prairie, that is now long gone. I read Cather’s Great Plains Trilogy in reverse order and that was a mistake. The last book, My Ántonia, is clearly the gem out of the three and I couldn’t help but mentally compare them as I read. ( )
  wandaly | May 19, 2021 |
I underestimated the quiet power of this book. Cather sprinkles her human drama with small but vivid farmsteading details, weaving an emotionally rich, slice-of-life tapestry of European settlers in untamed Nebraska. With the exception of Alexandra’s oddly eager forgiveness of Frank’s crime, Cather’s characters were cultivated similarly to Bergson farmland – the potential at first felt shallow and hidden, but it later blossomed into satisfying complexity under a deft hand. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
This is my second Willa Cather novel, and will probably be my last. She writes extremely well about places, but her character development leaves something to be desired.

In this book, we can see the very different ideas of morality that existed a century ago. Marie and Emil are more at fault than the man who shoots them. Alexandra was, in many ways, an early feminist. But, she still lived for her youngest brother and ended up married. Given that the book was written in 1913, I found these ideas more "interesting" than upsetting...in a "times have changed" kind of way.

So, a good story about duty: to the land, to your father and ultimately to yourself. ( )
  LynnB | Feb 16, 2021 |
This was one of many books that I was assigned for a college class and didn’t read, but I decided to pick it up now out of queer Nebraskan solidarity with Willa Cather.

And I really enjoyed it! The descriptions of life on the prairie and the relationships between neighbors and communities were evocative and rich without seeming sentimental, as is sometimes the case when you read books about rural life meant for an urban audience (Cather was living in New York at the time). The book is best when it takes its time picking apart relationships and individual psychology, and I especially enjoyed looking at the portrayal of European ethnic enclaves in Nebraska—Scandinavian, French, Bohemian—which seem a little flattened-out in modern Nebraska.

Alexandra is a strong, interesting personality in her own right, and I guess that’s where the book lost me at the very end. After Frank shoots Emil and Marie and Alexandra visits him in prison, vowing to get him a pardon from the governor, I found myself confused and alienated. Alexandra blames Emil and Marie for their youth and passion more than she blames Frank for murdering them—what? This is after a great stream of narration that gets into Frank’s mind during the murder where he tries to rationalize and blame everyone but himself, and in that moment, you can tell that the narrative is well aware of the cycle of male entitlement and violence. But Alexandra, who has so far been portrayed as the correct and sensible one, goes into the prison and tells him that she doesn’t blame him, because Marie was so beautiful and full of love that someone like Frank couldn’t help but shoot her when she directed it toward someone else? What??

Part of Alexandra’s character is her need to take responsibility for that which no one else knows how to nurture. Her father’s land, Ivar, her brothers, business in general, and she considers it her joy and her responsibility to bring beauty and life out of that which everyone else considered barren. So now that she’s decided to do the same for Frank, I get the narrative consistency, but the application leaves me cold.

In short, I liked everything except the last chapter, which kind of ruined the rest of the book. ( )
  acardon | Feb 5, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 138 (next | show all)
There isn't a vestige of 'style' as such: for page after page one is dazed at the ineptness of the medium and the triviality of the incidents...

» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionscalculated
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindemann, MarileeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perrin, NoelAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weakley, MarkIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Prairie Spring

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.
To the memory of
Sarah Orne Jewett
in whose beautiful and delicate work
there is the perfection
that endures
First words
One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them. The main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard, which ran from the squat red railway station and the grain “elevator” at the north end of the town to the lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On either side of this road straggled two uneven rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post-office. The board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o’clock in the afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were keeping well behind their frosty windows. The children were all in school, and there was nobody abroad in the streets but a few rough-looking countrymen in coarse overcoats, with their long caps pulled down to their noses. Some of them had brought their wives to town, and now and then a red or a plaid shawl flashed out of one store into the shelter of another. At the hitch-bars along the street a few heavy work-horses, harnessed to farm wagons, shivered under their blankets. About the station everything was quiet, for there would not be another train in until night.
The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.
People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose than to find.
Those fields, colored by various grain! - Mickiewicz
When the road began to climb the first long swells of the Divide, Alexandra hummed an old Swedish hymn, and Emil wondered why his sister looked so happy. Her face was so radiant that he felt shy about asking her. For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.
But that, as Emil himself had more than once reflected, was Alexandra's blind side, and her life had not been of the kind to sharpen her vision. Her training had all been toward the end of making her proficient in what she had undertaken to do. Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields. Nevertheless, the underground stream was there, and it was because she had so much personality to put into her enterprises and succeeded in putting it into them so completely, that her affairs prospered better than those of her neighbors.
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Cather presents the story of the Nebraska prairie. Alexandra Bergson, daughter of Swedish immigrant farmers, is devoted to the land and suffers the hardships of prairie life.

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Book description
Alexandra is the eldest child of the Bergsons, a ship-building family from Norway who have come to the American Midwest to wrest their living from another kind of frontier. Alexandra is driven by two great forces:her fierce protective love for her young brother Emil, and her deep love of the land. When her father dies, worn out by disease and debt, it is she who becomes head of the family and begins the long, hard process of taming the country, forcing it to yield wheat and corn where only the grass and wildflowers had grown since time began. Through the life, hopes, successes - and failures - of this magnificent woman we learn the story of all the immigrants who came to carve out new homes for themselves, who struggled against ignorance, drought, storm, poverty and came to love and understand the earth until it rewarded them with richness beyond measure.
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